Beauty and Chaos- The Amalfi Coast of Italy

By October 2, 2015Uncategorized
Waterspout offshore on Amalfi Coast

Waterspout offshore on Amalfi Coast

This photo was my welcome to the Amalfi Coast.  I took it on the way in from Naples, and who knew that it might be a harbinger of things to come?!  It was pretty and dramatic, and capturing the photo only cost me a few rude gestures from the lady behind me.  She was one of those who is in a hurry in the midst of a traffic jam.  You know the type right?  Driving on this coast is for the birds, who do not drive, and that is precisely my point.  I encountered motorcycles coming at me head-on in MY lane, driving in the middle between lanes, trucks coming head on, swinging wide on curves, and causing those of us in cars to back up to make room.  As a result,  I have a car here that has been parked since my arrival.  You need to put this in perspective, because I am a real mother trucker…I drive everywhere, without hesitation, because I can.  I got here with minimum trouble (well maybe a little bit), but even if you can drive these crazy roads its the parking that is the problem.  There is NONE, or Nienté as they say here.


The storm on the way in, was in some ways related to the lack of parking…at least in my head.  I stopped in Sorrento, the first city on this coast that is part of Amalfi as you come here from Naples.  There was a grocery store there, and I saw a few open spots on the street in front of it.  No meters, no signs, but no matter… I came out of the store with a few provisions, and jammed them into the trunk.  As I started the car the proximity alarm went off…BEEEP< BEEP< BEEP, and since it was an unfamiliar car, I’m thinking,”What the h…?! what does that alarm mean?” I quickly realized that someone had pulled in so close on my backside that the car was warning of impending collision.  I had to get out of the parking spot, and had about 5 inches in front of me, so I began jockeying the manual transmission back and forth, reverse and forward, trying to get my nose out into traffic, and not hit anything, all the while listening to that incessant BEEEP <BEEP<BEEP.  Once I got out into traffic, I breathed a sigh of relief.  It was then that I noticed a piece of paper under my windshield wiper…it looked suspiciously like a ticket. I tried to grab  it, but traffic was intense, and the windshield wiper was out of my reach, so I drove with the paper there, figuring I’d get to it when things calmed down.

That’s when the heavens opened up!  A storm of Biblical proportions came up over the mountain and began to drench everything in sight.  Once I found the switch for my windshield wipers, they had to go to full power (do you see where this is going…?), and bit by bit, the ticket disintegrated along the road. The poor vespa drivers had to pull off the roads which were now waterfalls.  The hikers and cyclists were even more pitiful. The clouds and rain were so thick that I couldn’t see Positano as I drove past…it was completely shrouded by the weather.  When the bulk of the storm moved off shore, the waterspout in the above photo formed. It was exciting, and it was intense! Because I never saw the ticket, I may now have a warrant out for my arrest due to lack of payment, I’ll never know, or perhaps I will get the bill when I turn in my rental car.


Ravello view from Villa Rufolo

I share the story, because it seems illustrative of my sense of this place.  It’s exciting, it’s beautiful, and there’s a bit of anxiety, a good dose of exhaustion, and maybe even danger in experiencing it.  The Amalfi coast is not for travel sissies.  No denying that there is great beauty here, but this beauty has a price.  It’ll cost you quite a bit of physical exertion, constant confusion, tons of stairs to climb, and crowds, crowds, and more crowds.  I thought having a car would help me possibly get away from moving with the pack on public transportation, but you can believe the tourist travel guides when they say that you don’t want a car for hopping from town to town here.  That doesn’t mean that public transportation is ideal.  In fact, busses get so full that they won’t stop for you. Signs regarding directions on where to go for info and tickets are next to non-existent in the towns.   Where to meet the bus is basically a matter of memorizing where you see it stop along the way, or where you got off.  My best suggestion is to look for tabacci shops.  You can usually get info or tickets for the bus there.   It’s commonplace to have fellow travelers on the bus, who don’t know where to get off or whether they are even on the correct bus (sometimes that traveler was me!)  At night, the lights remain on inside the bus, preventing you from seeing out the window to identify your stop on the dark roads. Nothing about the bus system is either reliable or intuitive, so adjust your expectations, and you’ll be fine.  Be ready to roll with whatever happens, and it’s probably wise to carry enough money to grab a taxi if all else fails. In the end I’ve found that if you give yourself lots of time, and are ready to walk a long distance, without packing in too many things into one day, you can enjoy the beauty and not get overwhelmed.  You may be tired, but somehow it all works out.

The other night my friend asked a bus driver when the next bus to our town would be here. He told her,” It’s coming from that way and will be here soon…10 minutes.” When she responded,” That’s what the last bus driver told us ½ hour ago.”  The bus driver just replied,” Then go have a drink.”  Ahhh, Italy!


Having said that, I’m finally attuned to where I am on the public system bus lines, and where my favorite spots are.  I’m even occasionally opting out of rushing around to see everything, and yesterday enjoyed my quiet hotel in Praiano (located between Amalfi and Positano).  Since I like quiet and peace, this is a good place for me to nest and rest.  When I want excitement, I visit the busier towns.  There I can find shopping, photo opportunities and sketching sites.

This is the reference photo for the spot where I sat to sketch in Ravello, Italy. High in the hills above Amalfi. See the sketch below

This is the reference photo for the spot where I sat to sketch in Ravello, Italy. Ravello sits high in the hills above Amalfi. When working on location, sometimes you have to ignore a few flaws in the scene and see the potential of a location.  Other times, you look for the most comfortable seat you can find, and try to make something happen.  This time, both of those factors came into play when I sat here.  Hint:  ALWAYS TAKE A PHOTO OR TWO OF WHERE YOU SIT TO SKETCH.  Ideally, photograph again if the light changes or something moves in or out of the shot.  I’ve had cars pull right in front of me and totally obscure my view while working on location.  If that happens, your photo really comes in handy!  You can see the sketch of the above photo below.

From my sketchbook, done on site while visiting Ravello, Italy

From my sketchbook: This sketch was done on site while visiting Ravello, Italy.  People come and people go, so you have to be ready to sketch quickly when they assume a pose that helps your sketch.  When sketching in ink on location, I like to leave open spaces in my shapes so that I can have some lost and found edges once I get around to putting paint on it. Taking poetic license with the scene is also fun.  I left out the construction netting and moved another sago palm into the scene from stage left. In this instance, I had to hurry to catch my bus so there was no time for paint, but I’m hoping to change that very soon!

As the sun sets on another day,  I hope you enjoy these shots from my travels along this rugged and beautiful coastline .

IMG_3839I’m getting very excited to think about heading to Tuscany at the end of the week for my EAT PAINT COOK TOUR 2015!  The ease and authentic nature of the beauty and the people in Tuscany will be welcome after my time here on the Amalfi Coast.  I’m musing about our introductory lessons there…and journaled with a little bit of sketching.


Tomorrow I’m heading for more sites of interest…hopefully Pompeii and the ruins of the catastrophic eruption of Mt. Vesuvius during the Roman Empire. If you’d like to weigh in with thoughts on your experiences on the Amalfi, or any thoughts that come to mind, I’d welcome your comments below.  I read every one, and try to respond once I do.

Stay in touch and Stay tuned!

Author Rebecca Zdybel

Artist, Instructor, Art-Travel Instructor - Spread Light, Share Love, DO Art! Rebecca Z Artist (Rebecca Zdybel) is an artist and instructor in Myrtle Beach, SC. She blogs and teaches locally and internationally. Sign up for her blog, classes, workshops, art travel tours, or see her work at

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Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Pat Merrell says:

    Ahhh Rebecca. I appreciate your honesty. When we spent 5 weeks in Italy last fall with our daughter and 3 granddaughters.. SIL and Aunt Kaye coming and going… we did our best to love Italy but it was difficult. Italy is difficult. Italians are difficult because they live with great bureaucratic frustration and since they do their best not to pay their taxes their infrastructure does not run well. Italy is beautiful, Italians are beautiful and quite stylish in almost every way. We love those things about them.

    I am so enjoying your posts. As Tom and I prepare to go back to Italy next month I have been intensely doing my Italian homework for the last year, hoping to go back with an attitude that will enable me to embrace things that really put me off last year. Like snotty waiters, lack of signposting the nationwide assumption that if you are American you of course want to pay huge quantities of money for a 6 course meal every time you sit down… Sorry, I will do better this time.

    The cities were the most difficult.. Rome and Venice the worst in those areas. Well, waiters can be difficult everywhere.

    We are going to Venice for the Biennale .. the Art Biennale. We have a guide for half a day this time so I am sure that will help with a lot of things. Like figuring out how to get on the water taxis.. I am doing a lot of homework.. a lot.

    We met some very charming people on our trip last year and have several encounters are great to look back on. And lots and lots of good food. Truffles were in season and I am sure you are looking forward to them as you return to Tuscany! I have become a chianti fan.. nothing like that tart chianti taste at the right temperature..

    You have some very fabulous pictures from this trip! I see a gallery full with the water spout (what was that??? It looks more like a sun funnel than a water spout??) but I can hear the lady blowing her horn at you for stopping. The whole country seems to run on “irritated” some days.

    When you have time I recommend putting Polly Coles book, The Politics of Washing in Venice” on you Kindle reader in your iPad. A good true story of a family moving to Venice for a year recently. I started it while we were on our transAtlantic cruise home from Rome last year. A chapter at a time is good for perspective.

    Remember when you rented a car and went of to Carcassonne a couple of years ago.. and were appalled to find that Rick Steves had gotten there before you and it had turned into a mini-Gatlinburg? I told you I loved Carcassonne because our experience there had been wonderful… February… cold… no tourists. The casoullet was hot and bubbly and fresh and tasty. We walked in with our backpacks and found a room above a bracante (antique store) that had a balcony overlooking the quite streets. You know it is all about perspective… My thoughts of the Amalfi coast come from Tom’s cousin’s stories of being there by herself 20 years ago and being taken in at a cafe for the evening where she had the most beautiful view in the world. Now, I never want to go there but I enjoy it in my head and from the photos you have taken. The blue grotto (green on your day or a different place???)… when I looked it up last year it looked like there was very little chance of actually getting in to it like you did. You did good.

    Hope your trip to Pompeii was good.. looking forward to the pictures.

    You know it is raining at home today.. by the time you get home we will be into beautiful fall. I ordered a book on Monet’s house after your visit. It came yesterday. Please come over and peruse it when you get home so you can see what you missed while you were out in the garden and what you have to look forward to when you come back! I have a few books on the gardens too that I love.

    Keep on keeping on. I am so so glad for you to have this trip in your head! many happy painting mornings in your studio down the line.

    Be safe.

  • I spent 10 days on the beautiful Almalfi coast. Just have to get use to the confusion – they live on easy time -it gets here when it does. But never have I ever seen that kind of beauty. Walked miles and miles and up and down stairs but all was worth it. Enjoy. Ate a different kind of fish every night.

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